25 April 2007


The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
Monday, April 17, 2007

In American politics, the recent firestorm over comments by Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and radio host Imus show how low the public discussion of race has sunk. In contrast to their minimal comments, the forceful presence of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are a thumb in the eye to race relations.

Reverend Al Sharpton is a disgusting presence on the political scene and a clear indication of how low the Democratic Party will sink to get black votes. Jay Nordlinger of the National Review does a nice job of summarizing Sharpton’s greatest hits.

In 1987, teenager Tawana Brawley, after staying home for a few days, smeared herself in dog feces, scrawled racial epithets on her body, and put a garbage bag over herself. She then claimed that six white men raped her. Sharpton jumped at the chance to turn this troubled teen’s false charges into ground zero of race hatred. Sharpton, along with attorneys Alton Maddox and C. Vernon Mason, very publicly accused a number of people, including assistant district attorney Steven Pagones even after Pagones was cleared. After suffering death threats and illnesses, Pagones sued Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason for defamation and won $345,000. Maddox and Mason were later disbarred over the incident.

In 1989, after the Central Park “wilding” in which there was a brutal rape and horrific beating of a young white woman, Al Sharpton burst onto the scene. He and his group charged that the jogger’s boyfriend had raped and beaten her. He and his supporters publicly chanted this ridiculous charge, denounced the victim as a “whore,” and suggested that a psychiatrist should examine her. In addition, they screamed her name over and over again because most publications refused to do so. His behavior became farcical when he brought Tawana Brawley to the trial to show the difference between white and black justice and had her meet the jogger’s alleged attackers (which she did in a friendly manner).

In 1991, a car driven by a Hasidic Jew struck and killed a 7 year old black child. Sharpton rushed forward to help whip the crowd into a frenzy. An example of his Jew-baiting comments included the following, “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.” The “Crown Height” riots then broke out and a rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum, was stabbed to death and over a hundred others were injured.

In 1995 in Harlem, a Jewish store owner (who owned Freddy’s Fashion Mart) was alleged to have driven a black sore owner out of business. Reverend Al held many rallies designed to scare the Jewish owner away. He made comments such as “[W]e will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business.” Three months later one of the protesters stormed Freddy’s, ordered all blacks out, and fired a pistol and burned the place down. Eight people died.

Baptist Minister Jesse Jackson is slicker and less obvious than Sharpton, but also corrupt and vicious. Kenneth Timmerman in Shakedown does a nice job of exposing his race-hustling innovations.

Jackson had a business of threatening boycotts of major U.S. corporations if they did not adopt quotas across a wide range of corporate activities. In response this threat, the companies then gave distributorships and other valuable contracts to black business owners who in turn kicked money back to Jackson’s organization. His brother also received a number of these distributorships. Among the corporations he shook down in the 1980’s were Coca-Cola, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and 7-Eleven. His scam in part involved black organizations paying annual dues to his nonprofit in return for being put on a list of minority subcontractors that he provided to his shakedown targets. His boycott of Coors got the company to donate $600,000 to boycotting parties, including, of course, Jackson’s non-profit (Operation PUSH). In addition, according to Judicial Watch, he lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to block companies seeking government approval to merge with the goal of forcing them to donate money to his nonprofit.

Reverend Jackson treats his nonprofit as his personal piggy bank. As Timmerman points out, Jackson repeatedly and illegally diverted funds from his nonprofits to pay for personal and political expenses. He also used nonprofit funds to pay some of the expenses related to his out-of-wedlock child he had as a result of a four-year affair. Oddly, his mistress was pregnant when he was very publicly counseling President Bill Clinton on his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.

The enlightened Sharpton refused to criticize Nation of Islam member Khalid Abdul Muhammad with whom Sharpton appeared in Harlem and who is famous for his anti-Semitic rants (e.g., “Who’s pimping the world? The hairy hands of the Zionist in the world.”). The hyper-sensitive Jackson in a 1984 interview with a black Washington Post reporter in which he said he wanted to “talk black talk” called New York City “Hymietown” (a derogatory term for Jews) and refused to distance himself from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who was making campaign appearances and raising money for Jackson. Farrakhan is famous for anti-Semitic diatribes (for example, calling Adolph Hitler “a great man”).

Senator Joseph Biden caused an uproar when he said the following to a reporter about Senator Barack Obama to the New York Observer, “I mean, you’ve got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a story book, man.” He effusively and repeatedly apologized for his comments. In recent times, there were two obscure black candidates (Shirley Chisholm in 1972 and Carol Moseley Braun in 2004) who didn’t attract much attention and probably weren’t who Biden had in mind. Instead, he was thinking of Sharpton and Jackson. While Reverends Sharpton and Jackson are articulate and Jackson was arguably nice-looking when he was younger, Biden is right that Obama provides a clear contrast to these dirty and mean-spirited men.

Imus was trying to make light of the Rutgers Women’s basketball team’s rough appearance (for example, tattoos) and their gritty defensive style of play. His comments clearly indicate this (he first called them “rough girls from Rutgers” and noted “they’ve got tattoos” before being prompted to joke that they were “nappy-headed hos”). People can argue over whether Imus’s comments were funny, but the notion that his show should be cancelled and he should be publicly scorned by major politicians and nearly every public commentator, while the media carried Jackson’s comments and CBS executives met with Sharpton hours before firing Imus is a case study of absurdity. And it’s not just the executives who pander to such con men. In recent years, Democratic Presidential candidates Bill Bradley, Al Gore, and Hilary Clinton also made pilgrimages to Al Sharpton in a pathetic show of deference.

Race hustling has arrived.

11 April 2007

Drug Prohibition: The Nanny State in Action

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 22, 2007

As the Iraq War drags into its fifth year, there is a far more destructive policy that has been going on for decades, drug prohibition. This prohibition is offensive at least in part because of its utter contempt for liberty.

In On Liberty (1859), John Stuart Mill put forth the harm principle which should be a basic tenet in a free society: state coercion is permissible only when it is necessary to prevent harm to others. The idea is that the state shouldn’t tell persons how to lead their lives. It shouldn’t mandate what people believe, what religion they practice, what they eat, etc. This seems to capture why alcohol prohibition was such a bad idea. It was wrong because it involved a nanny-state government telling adults what harmless activities they may and may not engage in. However, unlike drug-nannies, the alcohol-nannies had some respect for American citizens. While the Eighteenth Amendment banned sale and production of alcohol, it didn’t ban personal consumption.

Some nanny-types argue that drug use isn’t harmless because persons harm others through impaired driving, stealing to support their habit, drug-fueled violence, etc. There are a few things to note about this argument. First, these activities are already illegal and can be combated by directly targeting them. In fact, the massive resources used to track down drugs might end up diverting resources needed to prevent violent crime. For example, according to anthropologist Michael P. Ghiglieri, citing Bureau of Justice Statistics, in the '90s, only about 38% of murderers were sentenced to prison. Second, if this argument warrants drug prohibition, it provides an even stronger case for alcohol probation. It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t a blood enemy of liberty wanting to criminalize alcohol again. Third, if we allow the criminal law to protect against externalities, that is, when one person’s conduct imposes costs on others, the state could mandate jogging, body weight, sexual practices, etc. The harm principle (when narrowed to focus on direct harm to others) is a bulwark against such an invasion of liberty. For example, whether persons should be allowed to engage in gay male sex shouldn’t depend on whether sodomy burdens the state-subsidized medical system.

Even if drug prohibition didn’t involve a dizzying lack of respect for liberty, it probably doesn’t pass a simple cost-benefit analysis. A corollary to the harm principle is something like the following: before you restrict liberty, you should have convincing evidence that the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs.

The incarceration costs are staggering. A little background is helpful here. In 2005, the U.S. has 2.2 million people in prison. This gives the U.S. the pride of being the world leader in both per capita imprisonment and total imprisonment. The U.S. has one quarter of the world’s prisoners. A good deal of the problem is drug prohibition. Data from a 2005 Bureau of Justice study indicates that in 2003 roughly 22% of prisoners were there for drug crimes (20% of state prisoners, 55% of federal ones). Here is a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the state and federal incarceration costs. The product of 484,000 prisoners (2005 estimate) and $45,000 per prisoner (incarceration costs plus lost income--note I made this number up) is $22 billion per year. The pain-and-suffering cost brought about when you lock half a million men in cages and separate them from their friends and families doesn’t go into this number despite the fact that it’s huge. There are also massive law-enforcement costs. The federal drug control budget in 2006 was $12.5 billion. Since numerous state and local agencies also spend vast amounts of time and energy pursuing marijuana and other threats to the free world, one can imagine that the costs here are considerably greater than my low-end estimate of $34.5 billion.

Worthy of special contempt is the Drug Abuse Resistance Program (DARE) program. According to a 1998 study by Professors Ronsenbaum and Hanson of the University of Illinois at Chicago, DARE has no impact on the long-term rate of drug use by children who go through it. Other sources claim that this is the same result found in all major research into DARE’s effectiveness. Despite the lack of evidence for its effectiveness, in 1996 it was administered in 70% of the nation’s school districts, reaching 25 million students. That year 44 foreign countries also used it. The costs for this program include not just wasted taxpayer money but also lost education time.

Another significant cost is the shredding of the Constitution in pursuit of recreational drugs. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and allows warrants only when there is probable cause. Steven Duke of the CATO Institute points out that in the context of drug prohibition, the Constitution has been read to allow police to use the lower reasonable-suspicion standard to search our bodies. He notes that the Constitution has also been read to allow police to search mobile homes, closed containers within cars, and cars without a warrant. It allows them to search open fields and garbage cans and to conduct close helicopter surveillance of persons’ homes and backyards without warrant or cause. In pursuit of drugs, he notes, the Constitution “now” allows people to be searched in their cars or in airports, trains or buses, and submitted to questioning and dog sniffs.

Drug prohibition likely decreases the frequency of addiction and some of the horrible results (violence, theft, and abandonment) that accompany addiction. At the same time, it eliminates some of the good times people would have by using drugs. The same factors are present with alcohol. In the absence of convincing evidence that the benefits of prohibition outweigh its costs, it’s better to err on the side of liberty.

Locally, the costs are substantial. In Fredonia, the town picks up part of the costs of a police officer for the DARE program and the salary of an officer to participate in the Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force. There is also a drug court in Dunkirk. On Fredonia’s campus, there are administrative attempts to suspend students for possession and sale of small amounts of marijuana, although to be fair these don’t always involve a first-campus offense. There is an unsubstantiated rumor that local police offered to waive a marijuana arrest if the arrestee participated in drug-sting operations. If true, someone should be fired.

Like alcohol prohibition, drug prohibition tramples on liberty and doesn’t clearly past the cost-benefit test. Sadly, it’s probably here to stay anyway.